An encounter with elephants at Mashatu Game Reserve

Once upon a time in the Mashatu Game Reserve, I was the only women in a crew of 4; Nluu* (not his real name),a photo journalist, Sloo, the driver and Godi our tour guide.
Godi occupied the furthest and elevated seat at the back. For the purpose.

I still recall warning signs scattered all over Reserve,  “Mashatu animals are wild”.

We were taking pictures for a TV programme.

Our two day visit consisted of early morning game drives in an open Safari van. We would leave the hotel at 6am. At 9am, Sloo would set up the table for a full English breakfast, complete with steaming hot tea. This would also mark the end of our morning drive.

We occupied the rest of the morning working in and around the vicinity of our hotel. Conducting interviews, and taking more pictures. The intention was to leave the reserve with as many programme segments as possible.

At 3pm we would be back in the truck, heading for water holes, afternoon favourites for most animals. Everything worked as scripted, to the amazement of our tour guides.  We encounted troupes upon troupes of the all types of animals.

Day 2: Almost halfway through our morning drive,  Godi announced seeing elephants ahead of us.

You don’t visit he land of the giants and come back without their story.

We found them waiting. The entire clan; nursing mothers and their babies , possibly also uncles, aunts and the grandparents. Huge in numbers and build. Intimidating.

The sight of wild animals doesn’t often excite me. It’s good to see them so I don’t only rely on book knowledge. But it is not something I’ll move mountains for; probably because I grew up in a village, at the foot of a hill and there were seasons we would come home from school to find our yard packed with baboons, feeding on our melons. Snakes and  scorpions were our regular visitors. Kudus used to appear from the hill behind.

At the lands/farm/masimo ( whatever you call it), we feasted on porcupines, ostriches, kudus etc. I grew up with animals. I am a child of the wild. So I cannot, now all grown up, pretend to like animals so much as to travel distances just to admire them.

But I can good company though.

The elephants were on our left, facing us. I was sitting to the right of Nluu. The weather was good; blotches of thick clouds, leaving  gaps of blue sky for a beautiful picture quality.  The only sound was when Nluu changed positions. We needed to capture aesthetics, the ambiences, the unadulterated silence.

Things changrd when the mama elephant turned around, giving us her back – and slowly, they all turned and walked away. The  mother following closely behind.

“That is not a good sign. I think  it is  preparing to attack”. I don’t remember who said it between Sloo and Godi.

Elephants are matriarchal. Mothers  and grandmothers see to the welfare of the family. They guard and protect their own.
True to tradition, she came back, flapping her wide ears; coming for us.  Her screeching cries stayed with me for, I-don’t-know-how- long. Sloo revved the car Engine.  She stopped,  turned around as if to re-join the rest of the family.

We had continued with our video shoot. The car had not moved.

“Sloo tlou e eta. A re tsamaeng”, warned Godi.
To our shock, the mama elephant was approaching faster and more furious than the first time, leaving a cloud of dust in her trail. No amount of revving could slow her down. She had made her mind.
The road  ahead eas rocky and bumpy, making it impossible for Sloo to drive as fast as we had wished. The elephants followed closely behind, atleast from its cries.

“Sloo kana tou e gorogile”, you could smell fear in Godi’s voice.
“Monna Godi o tshosa  di-guests”, Sloo tried  to adhere to protocol.
“Wa re ke tshosa di-guests. Ka re tou ke e”.

Although the frequency of updates on the lurking danger was unwelcome then, in retrospect, I understand his situation. He was the closest to the angry elephant.

I couldn’t bring myself to look back to check our proximity to the attacking elephant. I could only muster a silent prayer “Lord please safe our lives”. Then waited for her to wrap her trunk around my neck and pull me out of the truck.
She was not going to do that while I looked.

Answer to our prayer came in the form of a river. Either from laziness or too much anger but she chose not to descend the deep river.  We watched, from the river, as she angrily pulled out fully grown trees. Her voice too  loud and too angry.

But we still had a journey back to the hotel….

What’s been happening: my time with vets and their fury friends

adorable-animal-blur-406014It was a long break. A lot happened. I went on tummy shrinking ‘boot camp’. Not in a strict sense. I committed to a lifestyle of healthy eating and fitness.

I am happy the tummy listened. The  upper bulge which had different sized protruding ball shaped domes, is gone.  I’m now working hard on my lower abdomen. I had expected it to be easier. Thankfully this was its last Christmas.

2017 I am building muscle.

I also started a feature article on the relationship between Veterinary Doctors and the animals they treat. I approached it from the assumption that Vets elevate animals to the levels of human being or they downgrade humans to where animals are. I am not yet sure of what I mean or where I’ll end with it or even the direction it will adopt.

At the moment I’m reading prohibitively thick scientific books. I have observed  a Vet at work and have had a rare, almost sacred opportunity to watch the doctor remove a cancerous lump from a dog’s breast.

I  was a participant observer; an  emotional participant at that. The dog was under  heavy anesthetics, so it was almost motionless. Sad sight, sad for the dog on the table, sad because of all the memories that overwhelmed me, sad that breast cancer doesn’t differentiate between human and dog.

When did I last do my mammogram? I caught myself thinking

The ‘veterinary doctor and their animals’ is a project I take seriously,  a commissioned project, in a way. I am only sad it is not moving as fast as I had hoped. But it will be a good story.

My fitness journey is an interesting one. The observers remind me in many ways that I should shift focus to other parts of my body. Some are bold enough to tell me why they think so. I must admit though that I am never as  concerned about anything else as I am about the tummy. Not strange, right?

I have met people, for example,  who obsess about shoes and careless about clothes. The first thing they see when you meet is your shoes. Some spent too much time on their hair styles and everything hair and ignore the face – and would probably check your hair before they greet. I tend to see the tummy first.

But I have taken note. I cannot swallow the tummy and allow other members of the body to stay in the old. Fortunately, when done well,  exercises should be able to address my concern and everything else in between. For now I am a happy African woman.

What am I on about?  That I have not written as often as I had hoped.

The body is an obedient structure.  I can testify. It responds to what we do. The journey is on. The benefits are innumerable.